LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Literary Life of the Rev. William Harness
Chapter I.

‣ Chapter I.
Chapter II.
Chapter III.
Chapter IV.
Chapter V.
Chapter VI.
Chapter VII.
Chapter VIII.
Chapter IX.
Chapter X.
Chapter XI.
Chapter XII.
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William Harness was born on the 14th of March, 1790. In date he was thus highly privileged, for he was contemporary with those remarkable men who rendered the earlier decades of this century the brightest in English literature. His birthplace was near the village of Wickham,* on the verge of Bere Forest—a tract which, like many others in South Hampshire, was then rich in sylvan luxuriance, and retains even to the present day some lingering vestiges of its ancient beauty. Here Dr.

* Where William of “Wykeham” was born.

Harness,* his father, lived until the year 1796, when on the breaking out of the war he accompanied Lord Hood to the Mediterranean as Physician to the Fleet.

One of William Harness’s earliest friends—born at Alresford, in the same woodland district—was Mary Russell Mitford. Their families had long been connected: Dr. Harness gave away Miss Russell, who became Miss Mitford’s mother; and it was here that the future authoress passed those happy days—and her earliest years were her happiest—to which she reverted with such fond remembrance in after-life. Here, in the spacious library, lined with her grandfather Russell’s books, or in the old-fashioned garden, among the stocks and hollyhocks, she and little William would chase away the summer hours, until the time when the carriage arrived, which was to carry her playmate back to Wickham. A picture taken when she was about six years old enables us to form some idea of her at this time. It represents her with her hair cut short across her forehead, and flowing down at the back in long glossy ringlets, while in her

* From some observations he had made in the West Indies, he conjectured that the use of lemons would greatly improve the sanitary condition of the Navy. The discovery has since been generally adopted, and proved an inestimable benefit to our seamen. The family of Harness is said to bo ancient, and the name to have been originally “Harneis.”

face there is a sedateness and gravity beyond her years, such as we might expect to find in a young lady devoted to study, and celebrated for early feats of memory. William Harness, on the other hand—by two years the younger—was full of joyous and exuberant spirits, with a bright beaming countenance, a rosy complexion, and a profusion of dark hair which curled and clustered on his open brow.

On Dr. Harness receiving an appointment at Lisbon, his family left Wickham. A voyage to Portugal in those days was something approaching to an adventure. Vessels bound for that coast started from Falmouth or Mount’s Bay,* and as they were entirely dependent upon canvas, the day of their departure was as uncertain as that of their arrival. They had a tedious voyage, with baffling winds; and little William Harness long remembered
“The noise and racket
Of that odious Lisbon packet,”
Byron so heartily anathematized a few years afterwards. But all the sickness and suffering were forgotten and fully compensated when they steered into the broad Tagus with flowing sails, and the

* As in Milton’s time:—

“Where the great vision of the guarded mount
Looks to Nomancos and Bayona’s hold.”

view of the city, rising in terrace above terrace, amid gardens and orange groves, broke upon their longing sight like some vision of a brighter world.

Soon after his father’s return to England, William Harness was sent to Harrow, where he was placed under the care of the celebrated Dr. Bland. On his entering the school, he became acquainted with Lord Byron in a manner which was certainly most creditable to the latter. It will be best to give Mr. Harness’s own account of this circumstance:

“My acquaintance with Lord Byron began very early in life, on my first going to school at Harrow. I was then just twelve years old. I was lame from an early accident, and pale and thin in consequence of a severe fever, from which, though perfectly recovered in other respects, I still continued weak. This dilapidated condition of mine—perhaps my lameness more than anything else—seems to have touched Byron’s sympathies. He saw me a stranger in a crowd; the very person likely to tempt the oppression of a bully, as I was utterly incapable of resisting it; and, in all the kindness of his generous nature, he took me under his charge. The first words he ever spoke to me, as far as I can recollect them, were, “If any fellow bullies you, tell me; and I’ll thrash him if I can.” His protection was not long needed; I was soon strong
again, and able to maintain my own; but, as long as his help was wanted, he never failed to render it. In this manner our friendship began when we were both boys, he the elder of the two; and it continued, without the slightest interruption, till he left Harrow for Cambridge.

“After this there was a temporary cessation of intercourse. We wrote to each other on his first leaving school; but the letters, as is wont to be the case, became gradually less and less communicative and frequent, till they eventually ceased altogether. The correspondence seemed to have come to a conclusion by common consent, till an unexpected occasion of its renewal occurred on the appearance of his first collection of poems, the ‘Hours of Idleness.’* This volume contained

* The critiques on which called forth “English Bards and Scotch Reviewers.” Byron seems always to have had an unfortunate and irresistible love of satire. Mr. Dyce (in RogersTable Talk) makes the following reference: “At the house of the Rev. W. Harness, I remember hearing Moore remark that he thought the natural bent of Byron’s genius was to satirical and burlesque poetry. On this Mr. Harness observed: ‘When Byron was at Harrow, he one day, seeing a young acquaintance at a short distance who was a violent admirer of Bonaparte, roared out
“‘Bold Robert Speer was Bony’s bad precursor,
Bob was a bloody dog, but Bonaparte a worser.’
Moore immediately wrote the lines down with the intention of inserting them in his ‘
Life of Byron,’ which he was then preparing; but they do not appear in it.”

an early essay of his satirical powers against the head-master of his late school; and very soon after its publication I received a letter from Byron—short, cold, and cutting—reproaching me with a breach of friendship, because I had, as he was informed, traduced his poetry in an English exercise, for the sake of conciliating the favour of
Dr. Butler. The only answer I returned to the letter was to send him the rough copy of my theme. It was on the Evils of Idleness. After a world of puerilities and commonplaces, it concluded by warning mankind in general, and the boys of Harrow in particular, if they would avoid the vice and its evils, to cultivate some accomplishment, that each might have an occupation of interest to engage his leisure, and be able to spend his ‘Hours of Idleness’ as profitably as our late popular school-fellow. The return of post brought me a letter from Byron, begging pardon for the unworthiness he had attributed to me, and acknowledging that he had been misinformed. Thus our correspondence was renewed: and it was never again interrupted till after his separation from Lady Byron and final departure from his country.”

Lord Byron thus refers to their early acquaintance at school: “I was then just fourteen. You were almost the first of my Harrow friends—certainly the first in my esteem, if not in date . . . .
How well I recollect the present of your first flights! There is another circumstance you do not know; the first lines I ever attempted at Harrow were addressed to you.”

Such was the commencement of this remarkable friendship. The two boys must have been very dissimilar in disposition as they became such different men. Byron alludes to their difference in conduct when at school; but their characters were not then formed. Moreover, they had several bonds of sympathy; both were fond of poetry and romance; both had warm and affectionate dispositions; both were devoted to study; and both were—lame. When William Harness was little more than an infant, he was playing with and clinging about some curious carving on the posts of an old oaken bedstead which were tied together and lying against the wall. By some unfortunate movement he caused the heavy mass to fall, and it came down with crushing weight upon his foot. He never entirely recovered this accident, and ho always felt a slight pain in walking; but such was his spirit and perseverance that in after-life he became a good pedestrian.

After the explanation to which Mr. Harness alludes and Byron’s letter of apology, they again became friends. “Our intercourse,” writes Mr. Harness, “was renewed and continued from that
time till his going abroad. Whatever faults Lord Byron might have had towards others, to myself he was always uniformly affectionate. I have many slights and neglects towards him to reproach myself with; but, on his part, I cannot call to mind, during the whole course of our intimacy, a single instance of caprice or unkindness.”

Before leaving England for Greece, in 1809, Byron made a most gratifying request of his friend:—

“I am going abroad, if possible, in the Spring, and before I depart I am collecting the pictures of my most intimate school-fellows. I have already a few, and shall want yours, or my cabinet will be incomplete. I have employed one of the best miniature painters of the day to take them—of course at my own expense, as I never allow my acquaintances to incur the least expenditure to gratify a whim of mine. To mention this may seem indelicate; but when I tell you a friend of ours first refused to sit, under the idea that he was to disburse on the occasion, you will see that it is necessary to state these preliminaries to prevent the recurrence of any similar mistake. I shall see you in time, and will carry you to the limner. It will be a tax on your patience for a week, but pray excuse it, as it is possible the resemblance may be the sole trace I shall be able to pre-
serve of our past friendship and present acquaintance. Just now it seems foolish enough; but in a few years, when some of us are dead, and others are separated by inevitable circumstances, it will be a kind of satisfaction to retain, in these images of the living, the idea of our former selves, and to contemplate, in the resemblance of the dead, all that remains of judgment, feeling, and a host of passions.

“But all this will be dull enough for you, and so good night; and to end my chapter, or rather my homily,

“Believe me,
“My dear
“Yours most affectionately,

The following letter from school is interesting from its date, and as showing the early intimacy between William Harness and Miss Mitford:

“Harrow, 31st July, 1808.

“I was impudent enough to invite myself to your house, and you were kind enough to say that I should be welcome; it was afterwards settled I should come to the Races. I am too selfish to let such an opportunity slip, and fully intend to bore
you for some time at Grasely. I hope
Mrs. Mitford will not turn me out. Will you then, my dear Sir, let me know when the Races are, and when I shall be least troublesome to you; for as soon as you appoint I shall come down and harass Miss Mitford to death! My father and grandmother send their love and compliments to Mrs. and Miss Mitford and yourself. I shall keep all my civil things till we meet.

“Believe me,
“Yours sincerely,
W. Harness.”

Mr. Harness observed on this occasion that the Mitfords’ mode of living was greatly altered. Dr. Mitford’s extravagance had almost consumed the golden gift which the Fairies had showered upon his little daughter. A change was visible in the household; the magnificent butler had disappeared; and the young Harrow boy by no means admired the shabby equipage in which they were to exhibit themselves on the race-course.

From Harrow, William Harness proceeded to Christ College, Cambridge, and while there he found time not only for classical and scientific study, but also for the perusal of the light and ornamental literature of the day. Those were, indeed, some of his happiest hours, when, full of the
enthusiasm of youth, and surrounded by kindred spirits—many of whom were destined hereafter to write their names on the roll of fame—he read aloud the works of some popular author, and listened to the criticism which its sentiments elicited. Mr. Harness was an excellent reader; his voice was soft and his emphasis correct; and, as he was always ready to oblige, his services in this respect were constantly put in requisition. His strength was fortunately equal to the task, and he sometimes read aloud as much as three volumes in a single day.

After Byron’s return from Greece, we find the following proof of his faithful remembrance in one of his letters to his friend: “I have not changed in all my ramblings: Harrow, and of course yourself, never left me, and the
‘Dulces reminisciter Argos’
attended me to the very spot to which that sentence alludes in the mind of the fallen Argive. Our intimacy commenced before we began to date at all, and it rests with you to continue it till the tour which must number it and me with the things that were.”

Shortly before Mr. Harness took his degree, he received an invitation to Newstead; and his stay there must have been one of unusual interest and
pleasure: this is the account which he gives of his visit.

“When Byron returned, with the MS. of the first two cantos of ‘Childe Harold’ in his portmanteau, I paid him a visit at Newstead. It was winter—dark, dreary weather—the snow upon the ground; and a straggling, gloomy, depressing, partially-inhabited place the Abbey was. Those rooms, however, which had been fitted up for residence were so comfortably appointed, glowing with crimson hangings, and cheerful with capacious fires, that one soon lost the melancholy feeling of being domiciled in the wing of an extensive ruin. Many tales are related or fabled of the orgies which, in the Poet’s early youth, had made clamorous these ancient halls of the Byrons. I can only say that nothing in the shape of riot or excess occurred when I was there. The only other visitor was Dr. Hodgson, the translator of Juvenal,* and nothing could be more quiet and regular than the course of our days. Byron was retouching, as the sheets passed through the press, the stanzas of ‘Childe Harold.’ Hodgson was at work in getting out the ensuing number of the ‘Monthly Review,’ of which he was principal editor. I was reading for my degree. When we met, our general talk was of poets and poetry—of who could or who could not write; but it

* Afterwards Provost of Eton.

occasionally rose into very serious discussions on religion. Byron, from his early education in Scotland, had been taught to identify the principles of Christianity with the extreme dogmas of Calvinism. His mind had thus imbibed a most miserable prejudice, which appeared to be the only obstacle to his hearty acceptance of the Gospel. Of this error we were most anxious to disabuse him. The chief weight of the argument rested with Hodgson, who was older, a good deal, than myself. I cannot even now—at a distance of more than fifty years—recall those conversations without a deep feeling of admiration for the judicious zeal and affectionate earnestness (often speaking with tears in his eyes) which Dr. Hodgson evinced in his advocacy of the truth. The only difference, except perhaps in the subjects talked about, between our life at Newstead Abbey and that of the quiet country families around us, was the hours we kept. It was, as I have said, winter, and the days were cold; and, as nothing tempted us to rise early, we got up late. This flung the routine of the day rather backward, and we did not go early to bed. My visit to Newstead lasted about three weeks, when I returned to Cambridge to take my degree.”

Notwithstanding the many valuable friendships which Mr. Harness formed at Cambridge, it was un-
fortunate for him, with regard to his success, that he had not chosen the sister University. He had no taste whatever for mathematics, and he found that at Cambridge they were everything. The Graces were kept at a decorous distance by interminable lines of squares and triangles, and no tuneful reeds then grew beside the Cam, except a few which—raised at Eton—had been transplanted to the Royal Nursery of Kings. The lovers of literature, though happy in one another, found themselves in a barren and delightless country; and
Byron, with characteristic boldness, spoke of his Alma Mater as nothing short of a “harsh beldam.” Mr. Harness was one of these exiles from Parnassus. He shared Miss Mitford’s distaste for the dry formulas and inevitable deductions of science, but loved the study of nature and of human life in its ever-varying phases and colours. If there was anything which attracted him more than Poetry, it was Art, and he arrived at so considerable a proficiency in Painting that many hoped he would make it his profession, and predicted for him a successful career. But he was animated by a still higher and nobler ambition—that of elevating not only the taste but the moral feelings of men, and of endeavouring to raise the human mind to the investigation of something still brighter than even the physical creation. He desired to “go on
unto perfection.” Poetry and Art should be but the handmaids of religion, to bear us with angels’ wings to higher and more spiritual truths. Speaking of the influence of refined and ornamental literature, he observes:

“To represent Christianity to the imagination as a blight that withers all the flowers which the hand of a bountiful Providence has so liberally scattered around us, is to disturb the harmony which subsists between the word and the works of the Creator. The exclusive system—following up the principle of separating its disciples from everything which interests the generality of men—prescribes an absolute rejection of what it designates as worldly literature. This system, if strictly followed, would effect the annihilation of all the Arts and Sciences which refine our nature, which raise the level of the intellect and cultivate the taste, and which fit the understanding for the profitable reception of better things.

“Again, the highest perfection to which we can attain, is the perfect cultivation of all and each of our faculties, as well intellectual as moral. Those faculties are cultivated by exercise, and as each is called into action by some different pursuit or study, it is by giving a certain moderate degree of variety to our studies and pursuits that all can receive that portion of exercise which is essential
for their cultivation. Now, there is no Art or Science which does not bring intellectual profit to the man who has mastered it. There is no species of literature (except, of course, such as are of an infidel or immoral tendency) which may not conduce to the cultivation of some talent which the Almighty has implanted within us, and thus assist us, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in making greater reaches towards that perfection which is set before us as the ultimate object of our pursuit.

“There is one objection—a very serious one—to the rigid, ascetic, pharisaic system in this respect. Such overstrained austerity always prepares the way for the grossest depravity. Count Struensee, in his Confessions, mentions the strictness with which he was brought up in his youth as the principal cause of his subsequent vices. Our whole nation, indeed, afforded a most striking demonstration of the evils consequent on too severe and puritanical a discipline, when, after the formal rigours of the Commonwealth, the people suddenly flung off the mask, and abandoned themselves to those excesses which followed the Restoration.”

It is a pleasing testimony to find that Dr. Bland, who had been Mr. Harness’s tutor at Harrow, continued afterwards to be his personal friend, and frequently corresponded with him on literary sub-
jects. It would appear from the following letter, that the Doctor had some taste for more modern poetry than that of his celebrated “
Greek Anthology:”

“Kenilworth, 22nd March, 1821.

“My work has been nominally published for two weeks and two days; really, I don’t believe it is published yet. How helpless am I, at this distance from head-quarters! Can you—will you—assist me in ascertaining whether it was advertised in the ‘Chronicle,’ ‘Courier,’ ‘Times’ and ‘Herald?’ Do me this favour by calling at the Royal Institution and looking over the files of the newspapers’; and again, in writing to me on this subject, just say whether you think the work published, in the sense of palam factum. As for writing tales, God knows, my dear friend, I feel but too far—too much inclined to indulge in this idle, heedless passion. I dream of cascades and that is βάθος ύλης so sweet, so inspiring, and so profitless, unless the dream be painted by more able brushes. No; should this work succeed, should the soothing breath of ‘Well done!’ speak comfort to my almost frozen heart, my vocation is irrevocably fixed, and the year rolls not away, provided I have health, unproductive of something more
genial than ‘Lord St. George.’ This latter, however, is but a too faithful picture of a country Barony; it is exact. If it fails, it fails for want of spirit, variety, wit, gravity, the intangible essence—in short, the graces necessary to verse. Who has read it? Do you know, and can you report any opinions? I mean, faithfully report them—ay, in all their asperities! Let me hear from you, my dear
Harness; and will you enclose for me the lines of Lord Byron to which you allude on the subject of Lord C——? I have never seen them, and think they might do me good.

“Most affectionately yours,
R. Bland.”